Ethiopia’s Getaneh Tamire Molla and Senberi Teferi captured respective close wins at the 14th Cross Internacional de Atapuerca, the opening race of this winter’s IAAF Cross Country Permit series, held on a pleasant and sunny Sunday (12).
While Teferi’s win was somewhat expected, Molla surprisingly beat some of the more favoured and better-known runners including the likes of world 5000m champion Muktar Edris and world U20 cross-country champion Jacob Kiplimo.
The men’s 9km race opened at a reasonable fast pace led by Spain’s Adel Mechaal, who placed fourth in the 1500m at the IAAF World Championships London 2017. He set a 2:50 per kilometre rhythm in the early stages which was easily followed by a 20-man pack.
Successive 1.95km loops of 5:38 and 5:31, headed mostly by Kiplimo, whittled down the main group to five men in the guise of the Ugandan rising star, Eritrea’s Aron Kifle, Molla and the main favourites Bahrain’s Aweke Ayalew and Ethiopia’s Imane Merga.
A frantic sixth kilometre, covered by that quartet in 2:39, left Edris and Uganda’s two-time Atapuerca runner-up Timothy Toroitich without any winning chances.
The penultimate lap took 5:27 and shortly afterwards, much to the surprise of the large crowd assembled, first the five-time victor Merga and then the defending champion Ayalew lost valuable distance. It soon became clear a new king would be crowned in Atapuerca.
Kiplimo’s relentless pace was followed only by Molla while Kifle lost ground with one kilometre remaining. The 16-year-old Ugandan tried desperately to leave the Ethiopian behind but Molla managed to keep him at bay before finding an extra gear over the closing 150 metres to successfully reach the tape in 24:45. Kiplimo was given 24:46 with Madrid-based Kifle completing the surprise podium, nine seconds adrift the victor but well ahead of Ayalew and Merga.
“It has been a surprise for me to defeat such a strong line-up today,” said Molla, who despite winning three national titles at 5000m and two national titles at cross country is still not as well-known as some of his compatriots. “I felt very good and managed to out-sprint Kiplimo at the end.”
Teferi strikes again
Held immediately before the men’s race, the women’s 8km event kicked off conservatively as the opening two kilometres was covered in a comfortable 6:44 with 10 women at the front.
The two-time European cross country champion topped the large lead group which included Kenya’s World Championships 5000m fifth-place finisher Margaret Chelimo Kipkemboi, a late replacement following the withdrawal of world cross-country bronze medallist Lilian Kasait Rengeruk.
Spain’s Trihas Gebre proved to be in fine form and was among the top five during the early stages, sandwiched between the Kenyan duo of Chelimo and Alice Aprot, Teferi, McCormack and Britain’s Stephanie Twell.
After a moderate 6:31 for the following loop, the latter two could not respond to Aprot’s sudden change of pace. The world cross-country silver medallist tried to kill the race with a 3:07 sixth kilometre but both Teferi and Chelimo managed to live with her pace while Gebre began to falter and ran alone in fourth.
Once the podium became a certainty – thanks to a 6:14 split for the penultimate lap – the only question mark left was its eventual order. A 3:01 seventh kilometre proved to be too quick for Aprot who lost ground on the last circuit and the race then turned into a two-horse battle between defending champion Teferi and late addition Chelimo.
The Ethiopian led throughout the final lap but Chelimo seemed a serious threat and ran virtually alongside Teferi throughout the final straight. As was the case in the 5000m final at the World Championships, Teferi finished just ahead of Chelimo, the pair being credited with the same time of 25:21.
Aprot recorded a comfortable third spot, 16 seconds in arrears but 13 seconds ahead of Gebre. Further back, McCormack overtook Twell in the closing stages.
“It’s an honour to defend my title from last year,” said Teferi, who earned silver medals at 5000m and cross country in 2015. “I like this course and the crowd. The surface is fine and I won again, so I can’t ask for more.”
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF
1 Getaneh Tamire Molla (ETH) 24:45
2 Jacob Kiplimo (UGA) 24:46
3 Aron Kifle (ERI) 24:54
4 Aweke Ayalew (BRN) 25:02
5 Imane Merga (ETH) 25:07
6 Muktar Edris (ETH) 25:11
7 Justus Soget (KEN) 25:12
8 Yemane Haileselassie (ERI) 25:17
9 Timothy Toroitich (UGA) 25:21
10 Jairus Birech (KEN) 25:25
1 Senbere Teferi (ETH) 25:21
2 Margaret Chelimo Kipkemboi (KEN) 25:21
3 Alice Aprot (KEN) 25:37
4 Trihas Gebre (ESP) 25:50
5 Fionnuala McCormack (IRL) 26:13
6 Stephanie Twell (GBR) 26:21
7 María José Pérez (ESP) 26:35
8 Lily Partridge (GBR) 26:36
9 Marta Pérez (ESP) 26:38
10 Cavaline Nahimana (BUR) 26:38